The Impact of School Environments on LGBTQ Youth

Abstract

The impact of negative school environments were examined on LGBTQ youth, focusing on the mental and academic areas. LGBTQ students who experienced higher rates of victimization experienced more frequent school and mental health problems. Students in supportive environments experienced less frequent school issues, especially if the school staff showed support and understanding. Studies show and support that negative school environments have long-lasting repercussions for LGBTQ students that influence later life choices such as higher education as well as reported self-esteem and depression.

The Impact of School Environments on LGBTQ Youth

In the United States, the majority of youth spend most of their time in the education system. In this environment students learn not only about math, social studies, and various other topics, but about how to interact with peer groups, form life-long social relationships, and learn about themselves, their identities, and their place in the world. While school is meant to be a mostly learning environment, the social aspects of the school experience cannot be ignored. Due to this social aspect of school, LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning) youth face special hardships due to their sexuality and gender that are not faced by their heterosexual and cisgender peers (Cahill & Cianciotto, 2012). These hardships are not caused by peers alone but also from faculty and staff as well which creates an even more negative environment for LGBTQ youth.

This victimization takes many forms from vocal, to verbal, to sexual. Students face anti-queer sentiments from simply hearing their sexuality used as an insult (“That’s so gay”) to having laws and lawsuits placed against their needs such as using the correct restrooms in the case of transgender students (Biegel, 2010; Kosciw, Greytak, Palmer, & Boesen, 2014). The harsher the responses and the source of the victimization have a direct connection with the response of the LGBTQ youth. The lack of support from faculty and staff in regards to peer issues leads to greater harm than students who face victimization but have the support of the school staff (Adelman & Woods, 2006).

These negative environments also lead to a decline in school attendance, lower GPA, mental health issues, and lack of goals for future education. The impact of the negative environment is harsh, taking its toll on not only on school based activities, but mental health as well. LGBTQ youth in unsupportive and negative school environments face lower self-esteem and higher rates of depression and even more suicidal ideations/thoughts that those whose environments are supportive of them (Adelman & Woods, 2006). This impact does not stop after the student leaves school but can leave lasting mental health issues that can lead to problems with substance abuse as well as problems with maintaining relationships later on in life (Grant, Mottet, Tanis, Harrison, & Herman, 2011).

The key is not only to tackle the negative environment but to make sure that the students also have a support structure as well. This includes clubs like Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs), on the books anti-bullying policies, as well as training for faculty and staff in dealing with the specific needs of LGBTQ students (Cahill & Cianciotto, 2012). These support structures are crucial in taking the epidemic of problems faced by LGBTQ youth within the school system. Without these support structures, students have no way of creating an environment that is safe for them to grow, learn, and create lasting peer groups as well as positive self-esteem (Adelman & Woods, 2006; Biegel, 2010). Negative school environments lead to problems in school with attendance and GPA as well as mental health issues that last once the student leaves school. This paper will look over these negative school environments and these various impacts on LGBTQ students throughout their school careers.

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Queering Religion

This interview was originally written for PourOverMag in April 2015. Unfortunately, the website is no longer available and the interview has been uploaded here.

I first met Stephanie Mott in May, 2011. We were fighting for the Manhattan, Kansas commissioners to not repeal the anti-discrimination ordinance passed back in February that added sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of protected classes. You read that right, only three months after passing the ordinance the new Manhattan commission was working on revoking the rights of queer Manhattan residents. The anti-discrimination ordinance had made Manhattan Kansas the second place in Kansas to add not only sexual orientation but gender identity to protected classes of citizens with Lawrence, Kansas being the first. In three short months, we saw these rights being ripped from under us.

We heard arguments from both sides, watching as ministers and fellow residents saying the protection was unnecessary because they had never seen someone discriminated on these bases. These responses came after person after person recounted tales of discrimination based on their gender and their sexual orientation, one of those people being me and another being Stephanie Mott. I remember coming down from speaking, shaking like a leaf. I was red, scared, and nervous. Stephanie hugged me and told me I had done an amazing job and handed me the card for her organization, KSTEP (Kansas Statewide Transgender Education Project).

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Righteously Mad

This originally appeared on In Our Words Blog. The website is no longer available so I am posting this previously published piece here. It has been edited slightly to fit into my more recent words and writing style (such as an added paragraph) but 95% of the post remains the same as it was when it was posted to IOWB.

Why do trans people act so sensitive when you discuss trans identities? Why do they get so uptight and righteous when you start talking about the obviously fake trans people and not them? Why do they get so upset when you misgender someone out of spite? It’s not like you were talking about them! You’re just talking about the bad trans people who give queer people a bad name! People shouldn’t get so upset about that!

When you talk about people as a collective, you are talking about them. You are telling people it is ok to do these things as long as someone sees them as bad, wrong, or incorrect. You are telling others and setting an example of behaviors that are never OK to do to anyone. You are tone and identity policing people.

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How to Form a Sincere Apology

I’ve seen a lot of well-meaning people throw their entire apologies to the wind through one mistake. While some of these apologies are sincere, others are non-apologies meant to try and appease those they’ve upset as opposed to actually learn from their mistakes. So, here is a little guide to help write a sincere apology and avoid those tropes and pot holes that may make your apology, no matter how sincere, bunk. This is aimed at more mass apologies as opposed to personal ones between one or a few people however that does not mean certain key points here are not applicable.

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Short and Long-Term Effects of Family Rejection on LGBTQ Youth

A family’s most basic functions include support, both emotional and financial. Our family are the first relationships we develop and are usually the ones that we hold onto the longest, from birth to death. These bonds are not only meant to integrate us into society but prepare us for our own families when the time or choice comes (Hammond & Cheney, 2009). What happens when these family units do not fulfill their most basic functions and cast out their family members for things that are often not a choice, such as gender or sexual orientation?

Family rejection can happen for a number of reasons from personal differences, religious problems, alcohol/drug use, arguments, and so forth. However, many times families can settle their differences and still continue to act as a unit, even if they do not necessarily get along. However there are occasions where this rejection is lifelong from the moment it happens. This can lead to short and long-term health effects, both mentally and physically, regardless of age. The impact is most significant if this rejection happens during youth and is over things that cannot be changed, such as gender or sexuality (Lowrey, 2010).

These effects can range from homelessness, increased depression, increased suicidal thoughts and tendencies, to higher accounts of HIV/AIDS and drug use/alcoholism (Ryan, Russell, Huebner, Diaz, & Sanchez, 2010). This rejection can also lead to being in and out of the criminal justice system due to the criminalization of homelessness as well as survival tactics such as the survival sex trade (Valentino, 2011). These problems are also affected by experiencing racism, transmisogyny (misogyny directed specifically at trans women), as well as sexism, heterosexism, and other institutional oppressions. For example, a Black trans women will face more problems on the streets than a White cisgender (meaning non-transgender) gay male (Grant, Mottet, Tanis, Harrison, & Herman, 2011). These impacts are both short and long-term, impacting a person’s life from the moment the rejection happens and beyond.

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On Manning Up: What Makes A Man

What makes a man? Who is defined as a man? Often those who are assumed to be men are masculine. What does masculinity entail? Brave, bold, courageous, aggressive, dominating. Masculinity is powerful. It’s at the helm. Femininity is rooted in the opposite. Soft, dainty, delicate, passive, submissive. Femininity is seen as inferior. It is seen as weak, especially in comparison to masculinity. So who is told to Man Up? Those who are seen as inferior. Those who are weak. Those who are delicate.

Thus terms like Manning Up are rooted in removing the feminine. They are rooted in these sexist ideas that femininity and thus, being a woman (as the two are connected in our society) are seen as inferior. We cannot be men if we do not ‘man up’ or, in the real meaning, become more masculine. These terms are directed at men or those perceived as men (regardless of actual gender) who are often seen as feminine and thus, seen as lesser to those who are not. It is a way of eradicating gender variance, and thus, eradicating femininity among men because it is seen as weak. The ideas of Manning Up are rooted in gender policing, femmephobia, sexism, transmisogyny, and anything remotely anti-woman. Manning Up means removing anything remotely woman-like. I often see trans men, in particular, trying to reclaim this phrase and other similar phrases as a turn of phrase, a reclamation of their identities, but at what cost?

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The Assumed Male Default: Misogynist

None of my coworkers or customers know I spent the first 20 years of my life being assumed to be a woman. They have no need to. It’s never come up and unless it is relevant, it is strictly irrelevant information. So, when it comes to how they treat me, I am treated just like every other guy, which has led to some insight when it comes to men interacting with one another.

Customers and coworkers alike have stated blatantly misogynistic things to me and expected me to agree. They automatically assume that I am misogynistic. This has come from anyone from teenagers to the elderly, both in words and actions. For example, I recently had a customer come in and begin complaining about a female employee from another store. He expected me to agree. He attempted to get me to agree. I was silent. I shrugged and listened. Then he left. I was baffled.

I had a coworker show me photos of a woman who had apparently slept with five guys (who were Black, cause apparently that just adds to the shock) and quoted Chris Brown “these hoes ain’t loyal”, I flat out told him maybe if he stopped beating women and calling them hoes, they’d be more inclined to stay. He seemed taken aback. I didn’t agree with his racist and misogynistic comments? What?

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An Open Letter to XSEED: Words Above People

This is the letter I sent to both XSEED and their parent company Marvelous Games about the transmisogyny in the game Akiba’s Trip and their defense of it.

 Cut for discussion of transmisogyny and slurs, as well as mention of rape, violence, and assault. Continue reading “An Open Letter to XSEED: Words Above People”

The Feminine Threat

When people critique femininity, they proclaim that femininity is weak, unnatural, and artificial. Many of the traits that people associate with femininity are seen as inferior, such as emotional, sensitive, grace, innocence, feminine styles of dress (such as colorful attire), especially when compared to their masculine counterparts. However, I find this kind of absurd when compared to how fragile masculinity actually is. It is threatened and questioned, potentially even destroyed, by being near femininity. Even associations with femininity cause chaos in the stability of masculinity.

Masculinity, especially the masculinity of cisgender straight men, is constantly under threat from femininity. Masculinity is something so fragile, that they fear to breathe the same air as someone who is feminine, especially someone they perceive as male (whether this is correct or not). For something seen as so weak and so inferior, masculinity is certainly on shaky ground. This ground becomes increasingly shakier the more masculine a person becomes. It becomes increasingly fragile the closer someone gets to hypermasculinity or idealized masculinity. It becomes threatened by something as small as painted nails.

In an attempt to stop biting my nails, I wore fake nails with sparkling purple nail polish on them. People stared at my hands. They refused to touch me. They acted as if touching me would somehow have them catch The Gay. People would take bags from me at work, avoiding at all cost touching me. The overwhelming majority were men. They were threatened by my blatant display of femininity, seen as more over the line than my long hair. It’s absurd that we see femininity as weak when masculinity is defeated and threatened so easily. How can femininity be seen as weak when masculinity is threatened by a dude with painted fingernails? A small dude, nonetheless, with painted fingernails who is 100lbs soaking wet. Yet we see masculinity as strength?

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Dysphoric Reality

TW: Suicide (potentially), dysphoria

People talk about dysphoria as if its a monster. This looming beast who lurches over us, slowly pressing its weight into our bodies. This creature that lurks around every corner, in every shadow. This Blood Mary who waits in our mirrors to strike if we dare to catch a glimpse. Dysphoria is described as dark and monstrous, something ready to rip out hearts and minds out the moment we dare to acknowledge it, feeding on the small triumphs to bring us back down. Those watchful eyes that never leave, that phantom breath down our necks.

What if I were to tell you that for some, dysphoria really is a monster. It really is a creature lurking in the shadows, sucking on happiness and leaving a hollow shell. What if I were to tell you that it may kill me soon and is just waiting for the right moment to strike with blade sharp fangs and claws? If the hushed ways we speak of these feelings manifests. It twists. It warps. It becomes real. Welcome to my world. I do not only have to deal with dysphoria, I have to live with it.

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How Much Do You Hate Yourself, @RuPaul?

CW: Discussion of slurs, homophobia, and transmisogyny.

“Derogatory slurs are always an outward projection of a person’s own poisonous self-loathing” – RuPaul Charles on Twitter, June 2, 2013 in response to Amanda Bynes using the f-slur.

So I must ask you, how much do you hate yourself to loudly proclaim you love a derogatory slur aimed at trans women and trans feminine people? How much poisonous self-loathing are you harboring to proclaim this on a national level, and repeatedly? For someone who proclaims words don’t hurt you, you seemed to take personal offense when Amanda Bynes said the f-slur. How can you love yourself, when you spew these derogatory slurs from a position of self-loathing? Clearly, RuPaul, you cannot uphold your own catchy phrases.

You tell people to get stronger, that words are just words, but if words are just words, something with no meaning, why are you defending them so vehemently? Let it go. If it has no meaning and no value, you can just simply let it go. Of course, that wouldn’t happen because words have power. They have meaning and strength behind them. They have such power, that queer people rally behind boycotting companies who state anti-gay sentiments. They boycott and speak out against people using homophobic slurs, as you did with Amanda Bynes. However, if trans women do the same, requesting you remove a singular word from your vocabulary, it becomes a problem. These women are suddenly causing the end of the gay community for requesting to not be addressed in slurs, these very women who started the Gay Rights Movement, but have you forgot your mothers of Sylvia Riveria and Marsha P Johnson?

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Drag, Counter Culture, and Transmisogyny

Currently there rages a controversy about the drag community and its use of transmisogynistic slurs, in particular the t-slur. Among the justifications from cis drag queens on their use of the word is the idea that drag is inherently offensive because it exists as a counter culture to mainstream. It is inherently offensive in today’s society because it runs the opposite as to what is expected in the mainstream. There is a problem with this, especially at the defense of transmisogyny.

There is nothing counter culture about transmisogyny. In fact, transmisogyny is so deeply ingrained in our society that it is literally everywhere. The most popular TV shows ranging from Bob’s Burgers to House and any TV show among all genres and networks all have that one episode. That one episode, or even a handful of episodes, where they drop the t-slur, make jokes about ‘men in dresses’ (in reference to trans women), or run of the ‘shock’ of a woman with a penis.

In video games, trans women are the butts of jokes as well. In Catherine a trans woman is given the same dreams as the men in order to prove how she is really a man. Grand Theft Auto V makes jokes at the expense of transgender sex workers, a very real reality due to the transmisogyny faced by trans women when it comes to finding jobs. These women are portrayed with beard shadows and make references to tucking and electrolysis. The writers did their research and then made sure to do the exact opposite, playing off the ‘men in dresses’ trope, yet again.

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